As an eventer, completing your first five-star event is a serious career milestone; to finish on the podium is icing on the cake. For 25-year-old Sophia Hill and her 11-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Humble Glory, aka Hughie, finishing third at their five-star debut was a career-defining moment.
“I was pretty stoked,” says Sophia of her performance at Adelaide Equestrian Festival. “A five-star start has always been what we’ve been working towards… it was delayed with Covid, but we were probably better off waiting so we were more prepared.”
The pair were certainly prepared – the cross country, normally the most anxiety-inducing phase for anyone stepping up to the level, was a walk in the park for Sophia and her “cross-country machine”. He was the only horse to go under time.
“I guess going to a five-star you have in your mind that it’s going to be a big step up, but I think we were really ready and well prepared. When I walked the course, I felt comfortable with it; I wasn’t worried about it. You know you’re going have to ride well, but it seemed really doable,” she recalls. “Hughie gave me a fantastic ride; he actually made it feel easy, which is crazy to say. He was so good.”
Sophia says she actually wasn’t too surprised in the end that they were able to go under time. “I know that Adelaide is typically hard to make time, and I knew looking from previous years’ results that riders rarely made time. However, Hughie’s never had a cross country jump fault and he’s an amazing galloper. He usually always makes the time, even when other horses don’t; he’s a very fast horse. I went in there with a plan that I wanted to make time. I’d worked out all my minute markers and where I needed to be ahead and I didn’t find it hard, I just had to keep galloping.
“My dressage isn’t what I’d love it to be, and so for me to be competitive I need to jump a double clear. So that was my goal: to do the best I could in the dressage, which unfortunately didn’t go to plan, but then jump a double clear.”
Following the dressage phase, Sophia was 14th on 40.9 penalties and it wasn’t the test she’d hoped for. “The biggest struggle for Hughie is being uphill in the dressage, because he’s just not built that way,” she explains. “He’s been getting way better overall at home and in the lead-up to Adelaide I was happy with how he was going, but he didn’t cope with the atmosphere very well. The crowd and the clapping in particular… as I went into the arena they obviously clapped for the rider before, and he really didn’t cope with that.
“The test wasn’t a disaster, but there were parts that in my mind were a disaster. The centreline and the extended canters… he was basically in cross-country mode. He got his head above the bit and just went really fast, which was disappointing because it hadn’t been happening in the lead-up. But a lot of it still went well and I was happy with a lot of the work. I was just really disappointed with those particular movements. Hopefully he’ll get better there with time.”